To mark Kidney Cancer Awareness Week, this week, we’ve spoken to Dr Katia Boleti, Consultant Medical Oncologist on behalf of leading charity Kidney Cancer UK, to find out the top things everybody should know about the disease - including symptoms, treatment options and how/when to seek medical advice if you are in any way concerned.

Health on Female First

Health on Female First

What is kidney cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases in which cells grow uncontrollably and can spread throughout the body. There are more than 200 different types of cancer and each type has its own characteristics.

The commonest form of cancer that grows in the kidney is the renal cell carcinoma or RCC for short – around 90% of kidney cancers are RCCs. There are several sub-types of RCC, with the most common being clear cell, which accounts for about 75% of RCCs. Other subtypes include papillary, chromophobe, and collecting duct carcinoma.

It’s the 7th most common cancer in adults in the UK

Kidney cancer affects thousands of people in the UK, with the latest research from Kidney Cancer UK revealing that almost 35 cases are diagnosed every day. Roughly 1 in 34 men and 1 in 61 women born after 1960 will be diagnosed with kidney cancer during their lifetime, which is why it’s vital that we raise awareness of the disease and educate people on how to spot the signs and symptoms as early as possible.

The warning signs of kidney cancer are often missed

Kidney cancer is quite a common cancer in the UK, with more than 12,500 new cases being diagnosed each year. Despite this, unfortunately, many people don’t know what warning signs to look out for – especially because signs and symptoms can often be attributed to other ailments.

In addition to the common signs – blood in the urine and a mass or lump in the abdomen – loss of appetite, lower back pain and unexpected weight loss can all be signs that something isn’t right. If you are showing any of these signs, it’s advisable that you visit your GP for a blood test as soon as possible.

Many people discover the disease through unrelated medical scans or tests

Kidney Cancer UK have found that close to half of kidney cancer patients (45.83%) only discovered that they had the disease as the result of an unrelated medical scan or test.

So far, general knowledge on kidney cancer has not been as wide as with other forms of the disease, like breast or prostate cancer, which means that signs and symptoms can be missed, leading to late diagnosis.

If you have experienced any symptoms or are concerned about your health, you should visit your GP as soon as possible to undergo investigation.

Lifestyle factors need to be considered

Although it is very difficult to attribute kidney cancer to one direct cause, we do know that certain lifestyle factors can increase the risk of developing the disease.

High blood pressure and obesity are recognised factors for increasing the risk of kidney cancer. An unhealthy diet and lack of regular exercise can have a negative impact on weight and blood pressure. Smoking does not only cause lung cancer but is another known risk factor for developing kidney cancer. In fact, for some people - especially those who have smoked for a long time - the latest research suggests that the risk of developing kidney cancer may double.

Aside from lifestyle, a family history of cancer and other genetic factors can also contribute to someone’s risk of developing kidney cancer. If you have relatives who have been diagnosed with the disease, it’s strongly advised that you visit your GP for a check-up and make sure that you are regularly monitoring yourself for any potential signs and symptoms.

Kidney cancer can be treated – if caught early enough

Kidney cancer can be successfully treated through a variety of options. In cases of localised cancer, advances in surgery such as laparoscopic (keyhole) and robotic surgery as well as local interventions such as radiofrequency ablation (heating the cancer to burn it) or cryotherapy (freezing the cancer to kill it) can help people get rid of their cancer for good.

Due to lack of lack of awareness, however, almost half of the patients (45%) are only diagnosed once they have reached an advanced stage of the disease (3 or 4); limiting the curative treatment choices available.

If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, it’s advised that you discuss your treatment options with the specialist team who are responsible for your care and treatment in the cancer unit – they will advise what they think would be best for you.

When considering your options, it’s worth thinking how the treatment might affect your quality of life – will you need to travel back and forth between hospital appointments, are there side-effects and can these be treated?

If you are unsure or would like further advice from a counsellor or specialist nurse, Kidney Cancer UK offers a free counselling service and free Careline to help patients through their cancer journey.

Help and support is available!

The most important thing to remember, is that you are not alone! Kidney Cancer UK is the UK’s leading specialist kidney cancer charity here to listen, inform and support kidney cancer patients, carers and their families through patient information and researching the causes, prevention and treatment of the disease. For support or further information visit www.kcuk.org.uk

** Statistics have been taken from Kidney Cancer UK’s 2019 Patient Survey Report.


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